On Thursday, July 7, the State of Texas executed Humberto Garcia Leal, a Mexican national, despite the fact that state officials broke the law when they failed to notify the Mexican consulate when he was arrested.
International law, which is critical to protect U.S. citizens abroad, requires consular access when a foreign citizen is arrested. Because Texas failed to comply with the law, the State Department and the White House implored the state not to carry out the execution and asked the Supreme Court to grant a stay.
Mr. Leal had been charged and convicted of rape and murder. The Mexican government did not learn of his case until after he had been sentenced to death.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that American courts must provide review and reconsideration to Mr. Leal’s claim that Texas authorities’ failure to allow him to contact consular officials harmed his case. President George W. Bush ordered state officials to comply with that decision, but Texas refused, and in 2008, the United States Supreme Court held that, while the United States was obligated to comply with the international court’s judgment, Congress had to enact legislation to force states’ compliance.
Legislation was submitted in the Senate last month, and Mr. Leal’s lawyers requested that his execution be stayed pending the outcome of the bill. The request for a stay was joined by the U.S. Solicitor General, as well as former judges, law enforcement officials, military leaders and diplomats, who argued that failing to comply with our obligations under the Vienna Convention puts Americans at risk overseas.
Indeed, Billy Hayes, whose ordeal in a Turkish prison was the subject of the movie “Midnight Express,” and journalist Euna Lee, who was detained in North Korea until President Bill Clinton negotiated her release, wrote letters calling for a reprieve for Mr. Leal, saying that they could not have negotiated the foreign legal systems that detained them without the help of consular officials.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay. The majority refused to postpone the execution based on a pending bill. Four dissenting justices argued that the decision put the United States in violation of international law and highlighted the “serious repercussions” for U.S. foreign relations as well as citizens traveling abroad.